Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Together Alone Together

The present is an age of shared solipsism. Isolation and alienation are nothing new. They have defined in large measure the personal experience of modernity. Individualism arose in this period as an ideological vocabulary that helped explain that experience as something else. Rather than facing the routine and banality of life we turn inward, where the real me resides. The thought that people don’t get you because you are “too complicated” and that your occupation is only “what you do and not who you are” are common expressions of this sentiment. Individualism, then, speaks to the adjustment that we make in order to transform the given conditions of social life into some kind of sense of happiness.

But like all ideological discourses, individualism is only mostly successful. As self-sufficient as it allows us to feel, it doesn’t quite do away with our need for belonging. The most up to date attempt to overcome that need is found in interwebian (I know, it’s a made up word) social networks. There the illusion of reciprocity, of interaction, of belonging, of being embedded in actual social networks is artfully maintained. You can easily forget that the warmth you feel is the radiant heat of electricity and not the emotional warmth that comes from human interaction. This is what I mean by shared solipsism. The interwebs make it possible for innumerable isolated people to engage with one another; they allow us to be alone together.

This too, however, does not satisfy our need for real human contact. Grouplove’s “Tongue Tied” captures with aching sweetness that need, I think. Something about the very musical composition of the song suggests commonality and collaboration. (And, like duh, the name of the band.) Its multi-instrumental and loose arrangement creates the sense of a bunch of friends playing together. The lyrics begin with an imperative, “Take me to your best friend’s house,” that transports us straight to adolescence. That was a time in which doing something meant gathering a group of friends, meant riding in someone’s beater car to someone else’s house where the party might be. Is this objectively true about the teen years or is it the kind of fantasy that we create by mixing nostalgia with wish-fulfillment? Fuck if I know. I have NEVER been good at making friends and if I get more than one call a week I think that my phone is “blowing up,” so maybe I’m not the best person to address this question. Regardless, “Tongue Tied” generates the equation of youth, love, longing, and togetherness. It’s wonderful. As is the vulnerability expressed in the fear of being alone, of being “kissed goodnight.” And so the song pleads and pleads to find the right expression that will make the moment last, to stay up through the night, to stay together. Ultimately the song reminds us that the only way to not be alone is to be with other people. The obviousness of this observation in no way diminishes the charm and tenderness of the song. It begs for togetherness in a way that few of us would but that all of us in a way want to.


  1. Thank you. This got me thinking about Durkheim/the atomistic individual etc. Please, please keep writing this blog!